Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Clarissa D on 10/14/2013

Why Gender-Specific Toys Are Harming Girls

The majority of the Toys R Us Lego Isle is a very familiar shade of blue, copyrighted and trademarked, and gleaming under the florescent lights. In one brightly lit section, however, pink reigns supreme: the section full of toys marketed to little girls. Most of these toys can be placed in at least one of three categories: luxury play (play that seems to serve no other purpose than to stimulate the girls’ imaginations in settings of extreme opulence and wealth), housework play (in which a child mimics doing household chores, including anything from an Easy Bake Oven to a baby doll to a plastic kitchenette), or interpersonal relationship play (in which a child is meant to identify with a doll of some kind, and she and other “dolls” are meant to interact). Many of these toys reinforce sexist and harmful ideas in girls that invariably inculcates passivity and conformism in adult women.

A classic example of sexist toys can be found in the “household maintenance” aisle of Toys R Us, win which things like toy brooms and dustpans are marketed specifically to girls. Such housework toys send the message that housework is traditionally feminine and expected of wives and mothers. Girls can use toy brooms to pretend they’re cleaning their family’s house or pretend to make her family dinner in a toy kitchentte. The fact that these toys exist is not an issue: some children (boys and girls alike) may actually enjoy pretending to cook or sweep. The problem lies in the fact that the vast majority of these items are being marketed to girls, not boys.

But it’s not just that gender-specific toys indoctrinate girls to do gendered work: many also teach young girls to covet lives of luxury, status, and indolence, which invariably set them up for failure, defeat, and despair. These “luxury” toys reinforce the disparity between what girls are taught to want and what they actually receive or are able to achieve. Girls are practically trained to expect these lavish lifestyles when the reality is that they will more than likely end up working for the rest of their lives, both at home and in the workforce. That is not to say that parents either have the choice of buying their children things like toy yachts or sitting their children to explain the details about living in abject poverty. Rather, especially given that in comparison to the rest of the world most Americans are incredibly blessed and privileged, the ideal lifestyle luxury toys encourage girls to aspire to is disproportionate to how most Americans actually live and could in fact be detrimental to the way girls view society and shape their own goals.

There is another key point in the despair for modern young women, however, and that is the ideal of beauty. Teaching young girls to admire and desire opulence is one thing, but the messages that other products like Bratz dolls, or the new “Monster High” dolls send are equally insidious. Monster High dolls are a new commodity on the market. They are Barbie-esque dolls that are reminiscent of popular monster tales, such as the classics of Dracula and Frankenstein. They have pithy names like Frankie Stein and Draculaura, and their impossibly long legs are highlighted by their incredibly short skirts. While their bodies seem to be more proportionate than Barbies or Bratz, they are still impossibly wafer-thin, with tiny waists and noticeable and often exposed breasts.

These standards all feed into what Americans consider to be the ideal beauty. Women and girls are taught to seek this perfect ideal of beauty, and in turn taught that being beautiful is one of the most important aspects of their very existence. Typically, as shown in these Monster High dolls, the ideal of beauty is predominantly white and able bodied. This ideal reinforces sexism, sizeism, racism, ableism, and ageism. The idea that women have to seek out perfection, while most men are perfectly acceptable as they are is simply sexist.

The sad fact is that children take note of the messages sent through things like gendered toys and the results can be shocking. Instilling this image of “perfection” on young girls has been shown to have disastrous consequences, like eating disorders. In fact, the National Eating Disorders Association conducted studies that showed that 42 % of children from first to third grade wished they were thinner, and 51% of nine and ten year old girls felt better about their bodies when they were on diets. People may see eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and body dimorphic disorder as adult problems, but the fact of the matter is that these diagnoses are being given to children at younger and younger ages. It is not uncommon for eight-year-old girls to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. But these toys do not just negatively impact girl’s self-images: sexist toys also impact girls’ feelings of self-worth. As children, this may be as benign as not wanting to raise their hands in class. In adult women, it leads to not asking for a promotion, not wanting to achieve as much as men, and ultimately taking as subservient role in a male-dominated society.

Look at the types of toys girls are told to buy: one exhibits opulence and wealth, another other exhibits traditional femininity and motherhood while still another established an unattainable standard of beauty. If these are the messages being sent to little girls, it is no wonder we’re seeing generation after generation of women wanting to “have it all” and feeling like they fail to measure up in all realms. These toys all enforce negative messages about women that can harm girls’ self-esteems, future prospects, and even careers.

Other sources of influence besides toys (including the media, home lives, and education) certainly influence girls in these realms, but toys are a significant (and often overlooked) part of the problem. Play time should be the safest time in the world for children. It is a time to discover, and learn, and imagine. When there are messages regarding gender and gender norms, however, play time can become dangerous.

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  • Tales from the toy aisle « Worlding @ at 3:04 am, October 15th, 2013

    [...] at: http://thefbomb.org/2013/10/why-gender-specific-toys-are-harming-girls/ Share [...]

  • Johnny @ at 3:25 am, October 15th, 2013

    You make very fair points however I started to skim at the point you introduced statistics. Be it evidence or not, you cannot link two independent variables to one another without proof of their relationship. Attempting to use stats of potential eating disorders to coincide with your argument against gender specific toys is your downfall. There is no clear relationship between these two elements. Say if you conducted a study where the girls you interviewed owned (say 5) barbies and asked them how they felt about their body sizes and such. Then you could use those statistics in this argument.

    Despite that part, I found your article to be quite amusing. I have to agree with the fundamental concept of this article. Girls toys really do suck not only on the superficial surface but on a deeper meaning that they send to young ladies. However the problem also lies within the commercial success of toys. Lets picture a toy that is aimed at both sexes and make them as ordinary as possible without any specific requirements. How would it look? What would be its selling point? How would the company market it? Without guides, toys become bland and boring.

    I used to work for TLG and I thought of the exact same issues, but more towards trying to get more girls to buy Lego and make the idea of building and creating for marketable towards girls. The main problem was the lack of lego women. Although this seems like a easy obstacle to maneuver around it in fact had many drawbacks. The ability to manufacture unique parts e.g. hair was the companies major setback. It was much more cost efficient to continue manufacturing basic hairdos or without, leaving the lego man bold. Printing the iconic happy face as opposed to the lego woman face was preferred as well.

    Lego has released a new line catered towards the attention of girls. The mini-doll’s design was more emphasized on the face as that was the main center piece of the design while the lego man favours customization. It has garnered sufficient positive reviews to show that the line was a success. The designs of the sets were not original but instead simplified version of the modular town sets due to the age demographic it was being advertised to.

    However the problem of lack of women in lego sets still looms over. Lego city is a very problematic city with high crime rates, poor safety regulations and plagued with arsonists, to add to that list, there are still very few women in the sets. A recently approved CUUSOO project aimed at integrating more lego women into the play scene has caught the attention of TLG and we should be seeing the results in next year’s lego lines.

  • Priya Bansal @ at 6:38 pm, October 19th, 2013

    I remember when I was a child I was told by one of my male classmates that boys were better than girls (his brother had apparently said so). This is probably the exact moment I became a feminist. While this moment was good for me and taught me how to fight, for many young girls it does exactly the opposite. When a child is told time and time again that she is genetically subservient (by children and adults alike), she starts to wonder why. Why is she being targeted? The conclusion my young mind (thankfully) came to is that boys were bullies and so obviously girls were better (I have since slightly refined that theory, don’t worry). However, many children don’t think that way. They start believing that they are second-class citizens and so they start acting like it. Before they know what they are doing, they train their minds into becoming submissive and subservient. They are never given the chance to grow.

    Cooking and cleaning are not necessarily the mark of a submissive, but many girls are told that they are. Therefore, when their peers and adults encourage them to do these things, they are, in a way, encouraging them to be subservient. Society needs to open its eyes and realize that some things it thinks are harmless are actually detrimental to a child’s mental health. I’m glad you wrote this article, so hopefully some people can start learning how to avoid gender inequality in young minds.

    With all that being said, I still have to return that zombie-slaying nerf gun that I borrowed “for the sake of humanity!” (Can anyone tell the reference?)

  • jess @ at 3:29 am, March 23rd, 2014

    I think the one thing that pisses me off the most is how all the toys for girls are pretendcooking, babies, make-up, etc. I just don’t agree with it almost as much as I don’t agree that toys for boys should be guns, monsters, fake tools, cars, etc. I think it’s really damaging and I hate it all right down to the colour of toys. The colour of these things decide which children want the toy. A boy won’t go for a pink toy and a girl won’t go for a blue toy because it is hardwired into their brain that pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Its hard to imagine the other way arounf despire my many attempts.
    I don’t have any children but if I ever do, I’m definitely not allowing this to happen. Children should be able to grow and develop personalities and interests with very little influence from gender stereotypes.It is ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE to hand s kid a toy and say “This is what boys should do.” Or “This is what girls should do.”
    Ill never understand why parents would want their young daughters to have baby dolls. Even though girls have maternal instincts,I don’t think its very appropriate for babies to take care of fake versions of themselves. It makes me feel like we’re teaching our kids that women are good for nothing more than looking pretty and having babies. Its absolutely disgusting.

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